U.S. Implements Trade Ruling on “Dolphin-Safe” Labeling

Dolphins in a net.
Dolphins in a net.

Washington, DC
15 July 2013

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says the United States has fully implemented the recommendations and rulings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a dispute brought by Mexico on the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling program. The United States informed the WTO of its compliance in a communication to be circulated to WTO members, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said.

“I am pleased to announce the United States has complied with the WTO’s findings in a way that enhances, and does not weaken, our ‘dolphin safe’ labeling program,” Froman said July 12. “The final rule published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) helps ensure that American consumers continue to receive accurate information regarding whether the tuna in a product labeled ‘dolphin safe’ was caught in a manner that caused harm to dolphins. These changes demonstrate that the United States can provide consumer information, protect dolphins, and avoid discrimination between WTO members consistent with WTO rules.”

In June 2012, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body adopted findings by a WTO panel and the Appellate Body that the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling program was, in some respects, inconsistent with U.S. WTO obligations. In particular, the WTO adopted findings that the dolphin-safe labeling requirements were inconsistent with nondiscrimination obligations to accord imported products treatment no less favorable than that accorded to like domestic products or products of other WTO members. The WTO found that the dolphin-safe labeling requirements were not “evenhanded” in the treatment of tuna harvested in different oceans, USTR said.

The amendments to the regulations address this concern by requiring as a new condition to use the label certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during fishing operations occurring outside the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP). These requirements already exist for fishing operations inside the ETP. Thus, the amendments to the regulations are evenhanded and will contribute further to the protection of dolphins regardless of where they swim, bringing the dolphin-safe labeling requirements into compliance with U.S. WTO obligations, USTR said.

The period of time for the United States to comply with the WTO ruling expired on July 13, 2013, and the final rule by NOAA is effective on that date. NOAA’s final rule is available on the U.S. Government Printing Office website.

LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR DOLPHINS

Enacted in 1990, the U.S. Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act (DPCIA) established a dolphin-safe labeling standard for tuna products. The law addressed a congressional finding that ‘‘consumers would like to know if the tuna they purchase is falsely labeled as to the effect of the harvesting of the tuna on dolphins.’’ The DPCIA sets out minimum criteria for when tuna product producers, importers, exporters, distributors or sellers may label their product dolphin-safe or with any other similar term or symbol suggesting that the tuna contained in the product were harvested using a method of fishing that is not harmful to dolphins.

Dolphins also have other protections under other U.S. laws. In 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which greatly reduced the annual dolphin bycatch by U.S. vessels fishing for tuna with purse-seine fishery in the eastern Pacific.

The act prohibits most takings of marine mammals, including dolphins, in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and bans importation of marine mammals and marine-mammal products into the United States.

Other legal protections for dolphins include the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which protects all species of dolphin, and the U.S. Endangered Species Act, under which some dolphins are listed as endangered.